Correspondence between John Belton and the Continental Congress

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Correspondence between John Belton and the Continental Congress  (1777) 
by Joseph Belton
Cover page of Belton's first letter to the Continental Congress

This is a collection of correspondence between Joseph Belton, a firearms inventor, and the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, in 1777. It contains descriptions of a modification that could be made to flintlock muskets to allow rapid firing of multiple shots with a single loading. Congress was interested in the invention, and it was demonstrated before noted scientists and military officers (including well known scientist David Rittenhouse and General Horatio Gates), but was rejected due to Belton's demand for what Congress considered excessive fees for the use of Belton's design.

Belton's original letter to Congress, April 11, 1777[edit]

April 11 letter from Bolton to Congress
To the Honourable Conteintnal Congress
May it Please your Honours,
I would just informe this Honourable Assembly, that I
have discover'd an improvement, in the use of Small Armes,
wherein a common small arm, may be maid to discharge
eight balls one after another, in eight, five or three seconds of
time, & each one to do execution five & twenty, or thirty yards,
and after so discharg'd, to be loaded and fire'd with cartridge as
usual, which I am ready to prove by experimental proof
and can with equal ease fix them so as to discharge sixteen,
or twenty, in sixteen, ten, or five seconds of time, which I
have kept as yet a secret, thinking that in two, or three Months
we might have an army thus equipt, which our enemy
should know nothing of, till they should be maid to know it
in the field, to their immortal sorrow
And if you Gentlemen are desirous to enquire into this im-
provement, your Humble Servent, is ready to wait upon you at
any time, or place, or he may be waited on at the Widow
Fords, in Walnut Street, between second & third street.
from your most Obedient
Humble Servent
Philidelphia April 11th 1777 Joseph Belton

Journals of the Continental Congress, Sat. May 3, 1777[edit]

Resolved, That John Belton be authorized and appointed to superintend,
and direct, the making or altering of one hundred muskets, on the
construction exhibited by him, and called "the new improved gun,"
which will discharge eight rounds with once loading; and that he
receive a reasonable compensation for his trouble, and be allowed
all just and necessary expences.

Belton's second letter to Congress, May 7, 1777[edit]

May 7, 1777 letter to Congress, page 1
To the Honorable Continental Congress
May it Please your Honours;
I have receiv'd your resolve of the first of May, Were-
in, I am Authorized to superintend, & direct, the altering of one
hundred Muskets, & that I receive a reasonable co,pensation for
my trouble (for so superintending & directing) &c. But I see
no prospect of having any reward for my Invention, and for
the cost and trouble I have already been at, Which has ever
been customary through all Nations, to reward usefull inventi-
ons, or discoveries, as I have set for in a paper, Which I
had wrote before. I had seen the Resolve, Which I had defer'd
the Board of War to lay before your Honours, and to what lengths
I would carry the invention and What Service it might render
to the States, and provided I should fail in compeating the
armes as I had therein set fourth, I would have no rewards
as I desire not my Counteries money without rendering Ser-
vices adiquate thereto, And still to remove all possable
Objections, & to put things on an equitable, & reasonable a
futten, as any one I think can desire, I will engage to direct
the arming of one hundred men, so as to be equal to two hun-
dred in the field of Battle, or any number equal to double the
same number as they are arm'd at present, Which shall be
left to the Judgement of the Commander, or three first Comman-
ding officers of our Army. And if they judge they are not I
will be satisfied, & desire, and receive no reward & be intitled to
none, But provided they should judge they were equal I then
should be intitled to a thousand pound from each State-
according to resolve of Congress, fo then where one hundred was
May 7, 1777 letter to Congress, page 2
thus equipt it would be the same, to the strength of the army, as if
there was another hundred raisd & equipt, & what state can raise, cloth
& equipt one hundred men for a thousand pound, or even three thousand
then allowing one hundred men to be equipt for each State, their
strength would be the same, as if they had been to the expense of three
thousand pounds more, in raising men besides the cost of maintaining them
which may be saivd to the State, What then would be the saving in
arming three or four thousand for each State, in short the many &
ennumerable advanteages, which it may render, are almost beyond
discription, which makes my proposal vastly reasonable, & untill
it is agreed to, or something simular, I shall beg to be exus'd
from superintending & directing the altering of any Muskets,
But when it is, it will be undertaken with Alacrity by
Your Most Obedient Humbl Ser't
Joseph Belton
N.B. As for the Enemies obtaining & making any use of the
invention against us, as some perhaps my imagine, I am no ways
apprehensive of at present, for it will be my own folt if they doe,
at least untill we had what number you please armd, and if they doe
then it might be by a deserter from our army, after he had become
acquainted with the use of the armes, for were our enemy to take
some of the Armes after they were completed they could not very sud-
denly use them, untill they had discovered the true & safe method
of Charging, which might puzzle the best of them for Months as
it has done me, & perhaps split one or two about their ears, as I have
done, Which you may think Gentlemen, as you have seen me
May 7, 1777 letter to Congress, page 3
discharge, to be very easy, but if any Gentleman in this
place will tel me in a week with what, & how I charge
I will give him the Invention, And him that alter'=d me
the gun knows not, and I am confident there is but one
upon the Continent beside myself that does know, But
from this you may think it will always be difficult, &
dangerous, for men to use them, But so far from that,
-that I would trust any friend that was usd to a gun,
after giving him the materials, & three or four words of
direction, to go by himself & Charge, for me to discharge,
and who had never seen the gun thus Charg'd before,
Many things appear vastly dangerious & difficult, & are
so till they are found out, then as vastly easy & simple
so experientia docet omnia, and has taught the forgoing to
your HblSert
Jo^s Belton
Philidelphia May 7 1777

Belton's letter to John Hancock, May 8, 1777[edit]

Letter to John Hancock, May 8, 1777
Philadelphia May 8th 1777
Mr Hancock
Sir
Perhaps the Congress will sooner Comply
with this than what I have heretofore laid before
them, (Viz) I will engage to arm any member
which shall prove equal to double the same num-
ber in Battle, if so then I should be intitled to
five hundred pounds from each State, & if equal
to three times their number I should be intitled to
a thousand pound from each Sate, and if equal to
four times their number I should be intitled to fif-
teen hundred from each State, so on riseing five
hundred for every greater number. Which should be
left to four experienced Officers two of which I
should have the privelage of Choosing, And as they
brought in so I should receive. And if they judged they
were not equal to double their number I would be
intitled to no reward which will be hartily complied with
by
Your Most Obiedient Humble Ser't
Joseph Belton

Journals of the Continental Congress, Thurs. May 15, 1777[edit]

A letter, of the 8, from Joseph Belton, was read, requiring an
extraordinary allowance for his new invented gun.
Ordered, That the same be dismissed.

Belton's third letter to Congress, June 14, 1777[edit]

Letter to Congress, June 14, 1777
Sir
Please to inform the Honourable Congress, that
as I have heretofore asserted to them, that I can discharge six-
teen, or twenty balls from one piece, one charging, by once pul-
ing tricker, or at two or three diffrent times, by little more
than cocking & priming the same lock two or three different
times. And as I mean ever to fulfull all & every one of my Asser-
tions, I propose next munday about ten O'Clock A.M. (if it
be agreeable to your Honours) in the State House Yard to make the
following exhibition (viz) to make five different discharges from
one pulling tricker. then again by little more than cocking & priming
to make five more different discharges, then by little more than cocking
& priming again to make six, all which I will warrant to do
execution one hundred yards and think I might safely warrant
it would two hundred, after which I can charge & fire with car-
trage as usual.---from
Your Most Obedient Humbl Ser't
Joseph Belton
Phila^da Saturday June 14th 1777

Belton's fourth letter to Congress, July 10, 1777[edit]

Letter to Congress, July 10, 1777
To the Honourable Continental Congress:
May it Please your Honours
You may see from a paper herewith inclos'd
signed by the Generals & other Officers, & Gentlemen, their
Oppinions upon my new Constructed Musket, and how extensively
usefully they judge it may be, and that I ought to be hansomely
rewarded by the Publick for my Invention, And it is reasonable
to think that all Publick reward ought to be in proportion to the
service that my invention, or improvement, may render to the
Publick. And to remove Objections (if any there be) against the
usefulness of my Invention, I will engage to direct the making
of Muskets upon such a construction, that anybody of men shall
be save in using them in discharging sixteen rounds in less
space than a minute, that shall do execution two hundred yards, and
then shall be able to load and fire with cartridge as usual, or to load the
whole sixteen rounds again, and in the least failer herein I would
be intitled to no reward. The service that such armes may render
to the Publick at this day & to posterity, I will leave your Honours
to Judge. at the same time, I think that Great Britan has granted
many five hundred a year for less services renderd to their country,
then what this will render to mine, and I look upon this extensive
continent to be able to grant five hundreds as well as the little Island
of Britan, and as money is stild the sinews of war, so it may be stild
the sinews of invention, for doubtless many experiments which might
have discoverd something useful to the Publick, has for the want of it, died
in Oblivion, And as the present Invention opens a door, into a wide
extended field of improvement in every military department, where many
useful things present themselves to view, which lies as yet unnotissed,
which when I am rewarded as the Invention merits, I shall readily
step forth in my Counteries cause, and exert eery ingenious nerve
to arm my Countery to the best possable advantage, for which purpose
I beg leave to dedicate these papers to your Honours serious consideration
and your wise determinations, may I hope, be crown'd with salutary con-
sequences, which is the desire of
your Most Obedient
Most Humble Servent
Joseph Belton

Enclosure[edit]

Enclosure to July 10, 1777 letter

Philadephia July 10th 1777

Having Carefully examined M. Beltons
New Constructed Musket from which He discharged
Sixteen Balls loaded at one time, we are fully of
Opinion that Muskets of his Construction with
some small alterations, or improvements might be
Rendered, of great Service, in the Defense of lives,
Redoubts, Ships &c, & even in the Field, and that
for his Ingenuity, & improvement he is Intitled
to a hansome reward from the Publick.


Dav. Rittenhouse B Arnold
Charles Wm Seale Horatio Gates
G Nash
Th F Proctor
J W Strickland

Journals of the Continental Congress, Thursday, July 10, 1777[edit]

A petition from Joseph Belton, and a petition from Captain James [Joseph] Lees, were read:
Ordered, That the petition of J. Belton be referred to the Board of War,
and the petition of Captain Lees to the Marine Committee.
Journals of the Continental Congress, Saturday, July 19, 1777
Resolved, That the petition of Thomas [Joseph] Belton be dismissed.